Communities and Covid-19 in rural South Africa

| 23rd June 2020
Margie Pretorius/InsightShare
How has Covid-19 affected communities living in the Amadiba area of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa?

We have destroyed nature to make money, pushing animal species to extinction and destroying biodiversity. 

I believe that there is a reason behind, or a lesson to learn from, each and everything that is happening in our lives. When I heard about coronavirus, I thought about the human mistakes that have brought us here, and I also thought that the time of coronavirus could be a time to restart and renew.

This experience comes to me in the form of lessons - about nature, rural life, tradition and politics. 

I live in the rural village of Gobodweni in the Amadiba area of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Many of us here are happy to have more time with our families during lockdown, but I know that this is not true for everyone.

Community 

For some people, ‘home’ can be a place of difficulty that houses conflicts and abuse. The South African government placed a ban on alcohol to reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions. The ban comes with challenges, but also hope: there is less domestic abuse of women and children, and less violent crime in general. 

In the Amadiba community we are only experiencing a few changes to our lifestyles resulting from the coronavirus. People still wake up early in the morning to complete everyday tasks: working in the fields, fetching water, herding cattle and fetching firewood.

The biggest change has been the regulations on social gatherings: up to 50 people are allowed at a funeral. Large funerals have been some of the biggest sites of infection in the Eastern Cape Province, of which Amadiba is a part.

It has not been easy to limit funerals to 50 people, because they are such an important part of community life. Usually, everyone is welcome so these restrictions are alien to us. 

Food

The Covid-19 crisis came during the harvesting period here in the Amadiba community, so luckily we have fresh food to harvest from our fields. Most people say they will harvest enough food for the rest of this whole year.

Meanwhile, in the cities, people are suffering and many are dependent on food parcels. This crisis reminds us in Amadiba how lucky we are to have land, and to be farmers: we still know how to grow our own food, unlike people who live in towns and cities.

A long time ago, our forefathers used to grow their own food, own their livestock and live happily. People used to share and help each other. ‘Modernism’ seems to have swept many of those good traditions away, replacing them with so-called "civilization".

Now, because of Covid-19, it feels like things might be slowly changing - back to normal, but not the old normal. People are starting to share more: sharing seedlings to grow food and save lives and going back to the culture of working the fields.  

Maybe the cure for this pandemic will come from the Indigenous world... For now, there is a lot for us to be proud of as the food we are growing and selling, feeds our country.

Crisis

Covid-19 poses a threat to the health of the human species, but perhaps it could also be a saviour of sorts. Humankind has forgotten where it comes from: we are too focused on money and minerals, and no longer see that we are part of the fabric of nature.

We have destroyed nature to make money, pushing animal species to extinction and destroying biodiversity. In Amadiba, we have been saying no to this way of life for nearly 20 years by resisting mining on our lands.

I wonder if this crisis will make the government listen to us at last? Destroying our land through mining would be foolish, when the food we produce feeds those in the cities. We have forgotten how to live in peace, love and care with nature, animals and with each other - and it is time to restore this knowledge. 

During this quarantine period animals in different parts of the world have been moving into areas usually occupied by humans. With humans forced to stay inside animals can move more freely in the world. It’s time for us - humans - to withdraw a bit and let the animals rebuild their world without our disturbance.

We people are complaining about being locked down at home and not being allowed to go out, but we keep animals in zoos and aquariums for life. There is no freedom for them. We don’t keep animals captive in Amadiba. 

Lessons on Amadiba

People are dying across South Africa because of Covid-19 and others will be killed by starvation. The government is giving out food parcels and has increased social grants to help people, but food prices have also increased.

On paydays hundreds of people gather in towns and that’s when the rules of social distancing are completely forgotten. While in small towns and rural areas there are few government officials to enforce the lockdown rules.

As far as we know, the virus has not reached our Amadiba community, but I fear that when it does reach us it will cause a disaster. There are no hospitals in our area and all households have elderly people living in them. Our community feels very vulnerable.

As the world and South Africa adjust to life in the time of Covid-19, many great initiatives are springing up. But not everything is appropriate for villages like ours. For example, education is moving online, but we don’t have electricity and school children don’t have devices with internet access. We will have to think of our own solutions. Our community will be alone in deciding how we live and how we survive - as usual.

This Author

Balungile Ntshangase is 21 years old. She is a farmer, part of the Amadiba participatory video team, the latest Indigenous community media hub to join the InsightShare Network. She is a co-founder of of Youth Voice Out, a village group that discusses teenage pregnancy, and wishes to train as a social worker.

Image: Margie Pretorius/InsightShare.

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